When Gio Gonzalez took the mound on Thursday, he did so with a clear mind. He told himself to forget all that’s happened during this inconsistent season and treat each inning like the score is tied. “I was trying to think with the mind-frame of starting over and pretending this is zero-zero all the way to the end,” he said.
And Gonzalez delivered one of his best starts of the year. He fired seven scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks, overcoming four hits, three walks and an error. He also struck out six batters. He entered the game with a 5.46 ERA and averaging under five innings per start over his previous six outings. He looked more like himself against the Diamondbacks.
“This outing meant a lot to me,” he said. “Just a step to the right direction.”
As Gonzalez has fought himself on the mound this season, he has battled command issues and the loss of his curveball. Earlier this season, shoulder issues played a part, but Gonzalez and Manager Matt Williams both believe the left-hander is long past that. Gonzalez has had command issues even before the injury.
For perhaps the first time in his career, Gonzalez had essentially lost the feel of his curveball, his go-to pitch. He hasn’t been able to control it like he used to, and batters could essentially eliminate it from their minds and focus on Gonzalez’s fastball and change-up.
So the most encouraging part of Thursday’s start was that Gonzalez threw some of his best curveballs in recent weeks, and perhaps of the season. By the fifth inning, Gonzalez was whipping curveballs that looped toward the plate and dived across it.
“I tried to stay on top on the pitch,” he said. “I wasn’t dropping my elbow or coming from my back pocket or anything like that. I was trying to snap it out in front, trying to get a good feel for it.”
Gonzalez’s curveball is a big part of his repertoire and, in previous seasons, was one of the best in baseball. In 2012, his curveball was worth 10.3 runs more than average, according to FanGraphs.com. Last year, it was worth 7.5 runs better than average. It dropped to only one more than average this season. Williams was happy to see Gonzalez land the pitch for strikes on Thursday.
“It just makes him so much more effective,” Williams said. “If we didn’t have to hit for him in [the seventh inning], we could have probably sent him back out. He pitched really good.”
During the 10-game winning streak, the Nationals rotation has produced a 1.34 ERA. “I just wanted to try to blend in with the rest of the rotation and try not to stick out like a sore thumb,” Gonzalez said.
FROM THE POST
Nationals make it 10 straight with an error in a 1-0 win over the Diamondbacks, writes Adam Kilgore.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Portland 1, Harrisburg 0: Paolo Espino fired eight scoreless innings, allowing only two hits and striking out 11. Derek Self gave up one run in the ninth and lost. Caleb Ramsey and Drew Vettleson each had two hits. Jason Martinson drew two walks.
Greensboro 14, Hagerstown 6: On rehab, Steven Souza Jr. started in right field and went 1 for 2 with an RBI and a strikeout. Wilmer Difo went 4 for 5 with two runs scored. Wander Suero gave up four runs, three earned, over seven innings. David Napoli blew the save and gave up seven runs.
State College 14, Auburn 3: Drew Van Orden gave up one run over five innings. David Ramos coughed up six runs and Deion Williams gave up four, three earned. Jose Marmolejos-Diaz went 3 for 5. Austin Davidson went 3 for 4.